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How Nutrition Influences Genes

Study published in Nature Communications

An international research team coordinated by the University of Lübeck today published a new study on the influence of nutrition on genetic association. Genetic association refers to the collective occurrence of certain genetic characteristics with greater frequency than what would be expected by sheer chance. Prof. Ralf Ludwig and his colleagues from the Lübeck Institute of Experimental Dermatology conducted research on the topic.

To date, genetic association studies have investigated whether certain changes in the genome are more frequent in the case of specific phenotypes, such as obesity, than in a control group. In their approach, the research team considered diet as a factor for genetic association studies. This new approach led to the identification of previously unknown genetic associations for a whole series of phenotypes, some of which have a bearing on disease.

Can diet influence predisposition to diseases?

In the next phase, the researchers investigated whether diet can not only reveal previously unknown genetic associations, but is also in a position to influence a genetic predisposition which leads to a potentially fatal kidney disease. To this end, mice were used that develop this disease, and they were fed differently. Almost all mice that were fed a “Western” diet containing a lot of sugar and fat developed a serious kidney inflammation (lupu nephritis), while mice that were given a low-calorie diet were completely spared the disease.

The analysis of these animals’ intestinal flora showed that the manifestation of the disease was preceded by a diet-induced change in the microbiome. The research work was funded by the German Research Foundation (Research Training Group 1743, “Genes, Environment and Inflammation”). The full article was published in the open access journal Nature Communications.